Dog Socialization: How to Improve a Dog's Social Skills

Dog socialization is important. Many dogs lack basic social skills, either because of limited exposure to other dogs and people, or a lack of positive experiences. Dogs who were raised without leaving their house and yard often show fear of many commonplace situations, such as meeting new people. These dogs are uncomfortable near new people because they look, smell and sound different from their families.

If a dog has had limited experience with the outside world, any change, such as a move to a new house or city, can be quite a challenge. When dogs like these end up in shelters, they often have a very hard time adjusting to their new environment. They may have been great with their people, even with a few family friends, but when everything in their lives has been turned upside down, they become fearful and antisocial. Unless someone works with them to improve their social skills, they are often deemed unsuitable family pets.

We can help these dogs by teaching them that the world isn’t as scary as it seems. Below is a list of things to practice with a dog to get him up to speed on his social skills and more comfortable with all types of situations. I like to create a worksheet with a check box next to each item on the list, so I can check off each item as I work with the dog on it. I use a fresh copy of the worksheet each month. If your dog develops positive associations with meeting new challenges, he will soon be comfortable and relaxed, ready to go places and do many fun things.

Check-off sheet

Handle all the dog’s body parts on a daily basis, giving praise and small food rewards
for relaxing. As the dog becomes more comfortable, have other people start to handle the dog, too.

Introduce the dog to people.

People of various ages: Differences in people:
___ Newborn to three months ___ Loud man
___ Three months to six months ___ Loud woman
___ Six months to nine months ___ Ethnic differences
___ Newly walking toddlers ___ Using oxygen
___ One year old ___ Using a cane
___ Two years old ___ Using a walker
___ More than one toddler at a time       ___ Using a wheelchair
___ Three to four years old ___ Other______________________
___ Groups of children playing  
___ Teenagers – boys and girls  
___ Adults – many different ones  
___ Seniors – many different ones  


People doing different things: People wearing different things:
___ Singing ___ Hats
___ Dancing ___ Glasses
___ Clapping ___ Sunglasses
___ Jumping ___ A helmet
___ Hopping ___ Coats with hood up
___ Skipping ___ Capes with hood up
___ Whistling ___ Gloves
___ Jogging ___ Masks
___ Other_____________________           ___ Big boots
  ___ Uniforms


Introduce the dog to other animals. To keep all pets safe, supervise at all times.

___ Cats ___ Kittens
___ Dogs ___ Puppies
___ Horses      ___ Small pet animals


Introduce the dog to household activities.

If the dog was an outdoor pet, everything will be new, so don’t do too much at once.

___ Vacuum ___ Dog nail clippers
___ Broom ___ Dog brush and comb
___ Mop ___ Sound of electric hair clippers
___ Alarm clock ___ Sound of electric fan
___ TV ___ Plastic bags flapping
___ Radio ___ A balloon with air escaping
___ Noise-making children’s toys ___ A recording of storm sounds
___ Children’s pull toys ___ A kite
___ Umbrella (open and close it) ___ Things being dropped
___ Other______________________________  


Introduce the dog to the big, wide world.

Take the dog on many different types of outings.

___ Ride in cars ___ See people on bicycles
___ Walk on different flooring ___ See people on skates
___ Use stairs with and without backs ___ See people using shopping carts
___ Walk on bridges ___ Meet new friends
___ Visit other people’s homes  
___ Take the dog to be groomed  
___ See and smell parks  
___ Sit at coffee shop with you  
___ Use elevators  
___ Use automatic doors at stores  
___ Other______________________________